Syrian government forces have recaptured half the former rebel stronghold of eastern Aleppo, a monitor said, with the UN now facing a “race against time” to aid children forced out by the bloody offensive.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have made swift gains since their offensive against Aleppo — once Syria’s commercial powerhouse — began on Nov. 15.
Tens of thousands of civilians have streamed out of the city’s eastern, and Russia has renewed calls for humanitarian corridors so that aid can enter and desperate residents can leave.
Regime forces on Friday “consolidated their control” over two eastern districts and were pushing further to squeeze the shrinking rebel enclave, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
“After the recent advances, the regime is comfortably in control of half of former rebel territory in the city’s eastern,” Rahman said on Friday.
Dozens of families trickled out the area on Friday, adding to the more than 50,000 people who have poured from eastern Aleppo into territory controlled by government forces or local Kurdish authorities, the Observatory said.
Among those fleeing are nearly 20,000 children, according to estimates by the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
“What is critical now is that we provide the immediate and sustained assistance that these children and their families desperately need,” UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac said. “It’s a race against time, as winter is here and conditions are basic.”
The loss of eastern Aleppo — a rebel stronghold since 2012 — would be the biggest blow to Syria’s opposition in more than five years.
Earlier on Friday, anti-government fighters had successfully rolled back regime gains in Sheikh Saeed on Aleppo’s southeastern outskirts.
Sheikh Saeed borders the last remaining parts of Aleppo still in rebel hands — a collection of densely populated residential neighborhoods where thousands have sought refuge from advancing regime forces.
In preparation for street-by-street fighting in these districts, hundreds of fighters from Syria’s elite Republican Guard and Fourth Division arrived in Aleppo on Friday, the observatory said.
It said that four civilians were killed in rebel rocket fire on government-held areas, bringing to 59 the civilian toll in the west of Aleppo.
More than 300 civilians, including dozens of children, have been killed in eastern Aleppo since the offensive began, according to the observatory.
Intermittent clashes rocked residential buildings on Aleppo’s eastern edges on Friday, as regime forces sought to secure the road towards the airport.
A reporters in eastern Aleppo said ferocious clashes could be heard in the Tariq al-Bab district, where regime forces advanced on Thursday.
Civilians had already totally emptied the adjacent neighborhood of Al-Shaar, where a few rebels manned positions in front of shuttered shops and bakeries.
Vegetable stalls — empty for months because of a devastating government siege — now lay shattered by heavy artillery fire.
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